Choosing a Gun Safe

By Bob Campbell published on in Gun Gear, Safety and Training

When I was a young man, the average living room or den featured a wooden gun cabinet, the stores had racks and safes were unheard of. That quickly changed, and today it would be foolish indeed to rely on a gun cabinet. There is little security. In fact, gun cabinets are not really secure, even from children.

Picture of a black gun safe with a silver bolt

That big bolt means security.

I once had a friend who was a good child, although as curious as any. He had learned how to take the back off of his dad’s gun cabinet—I suppose David was about 11—and reverently showed me the family .32-20 Winchester. It was wrong, even though not unexpected. He did know how to check to see if the rifle was loaded and was very reverent when handling it; however, the old-time gun cabinet had no security. The last one I saw still in use was at the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, NC. I am not a family friend; I was on tour, and the place was well guarded.

It is a moral responsibility, and sometimes a legal one, to keep firearms out of the hands of children and criminals. The first advice I can give is to buy all the safe you can afford at the first chance. Most of the time, we end up with two, or even three, safes. We purchase the first safe, then we keep accumulating the guns of our dreams, and it grows from there. That is prosperity.

If you own a small number of working guns and need to keep the deer rifle, the bird gun, a couple of .22s and the pistols out of the hands of children, you need a gun safe. If the accumulation of firearms is more appealing than the growth of a 401K, you need a larger safe. If you have a steel door on the safe room and just want to keep the children away from the guns, a simple safe—really a metal cabinet—is fine. Fires are terrible, so you need a fireproof safe, although the primary concern is theft. Guns are one of the few things that bring more on the street than they may fetch at retail, which makes them very attractive to thieves.

There is a great disparity in the availability of gun safes. Many are simple locking cabinets; others weigh thousands of pounds. It all depends on your focus. If guns are the focus of your hobby or investment, then the largest safe you can afford is a wise choice. If you collect motorcycles and cars and like a few guns too, then a modest, quality safe is advisable. A locking cabinet is OK for keeping the kids out.

Let’s Talk Features

There are many things to consider when purchasing your gun safe. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

The Gauge of the Steel

Let’s look at gauges of steel: the lower the number, the thicker the gauge, just like shotguns. A 10-gauge metal is heavier than 12-gauge. You could breach a lighter safe with a heavy axe. Sure, they are easy to move, but that means they are just as easy to steal; do not get a false sense of security.

Fire Rating

Blue label safety label on a black gun safe

Fire-tested and affordable Cannon safes are always a good bet.

Fire rating is also important since most of us will store deeds and checkbooks in the gun safe. Not long ago, I was having a problem keeping my oatmeal cookies from my daughter. I have one with my coffee, and she would steal two or three a day. So the oatmeal cookies went in the gun safe; there are many uses (I had to insert that—knives sometimes go in the safe, and I have hidden jewelry just before Christmas as well). The more extensive and expensive your collection, the better the quality of the safe you need to buy, and a large and heavy safe is better than two small ones.


Location is important. A professional team of thieves will remove the safe from a home and cut their way into it later; make it difficult to them to get the safe. A doper who breaks in and comes across the safe by accident will sometimes take a sledgehammer to the locking mechanism. The handles may break off, but the safe will remain intact.

Internal and external hinges are a consideration. If the safe has external hinges they are easier to get to and it would still take a great deal of effort to get into the safe.


Plan Ahead

Obviously, the heaviest safe is unsuitable for an apartment, and some second floors will not support a safe. As an example, a few years ago I purchased an antique bathtub for the bathroom of the older house where I lived. As it turned out, I had to shore up the floor, and the same for my daughter’s waterbed. Not all homes are made for that type of weight in the corner.

This safe has given excellent service. The dial pad requires that the batteries be changed occasionally, otherwise the safe has been trouble free.

This safe has given excellent service. You must change the dial pad batteries occasionally, but the safe has been trouble free.

As for security, this is common sense: no one needs to know what you have. You should not save the code or combination, unless absolutely necessary. If you copy the combination, store it in a safe deposit box and put the key to the bank box in the safe, you will have a problem.

Back to size—handguns or rifles? The layout is different. Choose wisely, and make your safe purchase a once-in-a-lifetime investment.

Do you keep your guns in a locked safe? What type of gun safe have you purchased (or are planning to buy)? Share in the comments section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (28)

  • Gman


    One point about the article relating to the external hinges, If you have a good quality safe, that’s made in America, or Germany there are interior bolts that are positioned all around the door so cutting off the hinges will not work! The exterior hinges are made so the door opens fully and out of your way when accessing into it!


  • Marvin


    It is our moral responsibility as gun owners to keep our guns away from children. Buying a gun safe is a no brainer


  • Kevin Hand


    All great things to consider when choosing a gun safe. There are many other features and things to consider making sure that the gun safe is not only safe and secure, but will last for a very long time.
    The actual construction of the gun safe is immensely important. The body should be made of the thickest steel with the safe door construction at the most importance. For example Sportsman has 3″ jig saw doors with double expandable gaskets. These gun safe doors, like the one shown here, are built almost like a bank vault by sealing your firearms on three different levels.
    Another important construction that someone can look into for a gun safe is the addition of a separate steel frame made solely for the lock plate. This is commonly used as an added safety mechanism against common intrusive attempts such as drilling the lock.
    Sure, gun safes like this might be more pricey, and vary on each gun owners objections but ultimately you get what you pay for. I don’t think anyone should take a chance on an inferior safe and make sure that whatever safe you choose will protect you, your family and your firearms investment. Here is another resource for some additional safety tips people can take into consideration when picking out a gun safe.


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